Jazz fest brings downtown to life

One year after its inception, the 2009 Brantford International Jazz Festival returned this past weekend, even bigger and better than last year’s event. And if there was one thing to be learned from the weekend’s festivities, it was that you don’t have to be on the radio to bring out a crowd.

With a larger budget (in the six figures, to be exact) and double the musicians as last year, the second annual Jazz Festival once again took place in the heart of Brantford’s downtown core. Due to this increase in interest and funding, the festival expanded to two full days and with an estimated 15,000+ attendees.

“We really learned a lot from last year,” said Peter MacNames, the Vice-President of the festival. “This year, it’s bigger and better.”

Fortunately, with the blessing of perfect weather, droves of people of all age groups turned out on Saturday and Sunday to experience the best of jazz. From the Latin group, Caché, which boasts members from Canada, Colombia, Venezuela, Italy and Cuba, to the multi-faceted jazz of headliner Holly Cole, the crowds were treated to several genres of jazz music.

“This year we searched for a variety of musicians because there’s an increased interest in all types of jazz music,” explained MacNames.

Aside from the longer list of performers at this year’s festival, returning attendees may have noticed that there were no returning musicians from last year. MacNames said there was good reason for this:

“We have a policy of only having brand new musicians,” he said. “It gives people a lot of chances to explore new talent.”

Jamie Thompson, who performed with her group Corner Pocket on the corner of Dalhousie and Queen, was honoured to have been given a spot among this year’s group of highly qualified artists.

“There aren’t a lot of venues for jazz so to have this opportunity,” said Thompson, “and to be on the same bill as some of the other musicians that are here, has been amazing.”

Luckily, the influx of new talent did not go unappreciated by the crowds in Harmony Square and on Dalhousie Street. Joanne Shingler, a resident of Brantford, was pleased with how much the festival has grown in only one short year.

“I think it’s even more awesome!” she exclaimed. “It’s running more smoothly and everybody’s on time this year.”

For first-time attendee Will Cullen, who is originally from Guelph, the promise of day-long live entertainment was impossible to ignore.

“It’s awesome that Brantford is offering all these big names,” he mused. “I saw a couple of bands that I liked, like the Shuffle Demons, and decided to come out.”

Cullen also expressed excitement over the amount of people in attendance.

“It’s great to see people outdoors and together in such a concentrated space,” he said. “It’s even better that the focus for all of us is not commercial, but on the celebration of the arts.”

“This is part of the revitalization of Brantford,” continued Cullen. “And it’s great that they’re doing it with jazz. You kind of think jazz is like an older people type of thing and it’s good to see younger people more open to that, more so than I had been at that age.”

In addition to all the different types of jazz catering to people’s unique tastes, the festival also had a varied food selection which included delicious My Thai, as well as infamous pulled pork sandwiches from Strodes (whose owner, Chuck, also kindly gave away free hugs!). Other booths included jazz art by Cambridge artist Ken Daley, and a place to buy merch. Even local businesses such as Piston Broke and Coffee Culture experienced high levels of patronage from thirsty and hungry festival-goers.

With so many people having their needs met, it was no surprise that MacNames described the festival as a “win-win situation”.

“Sponsors are happy, food vendors are selling a lot of food, and of course, the people in attendance are happy.” With a satisfied smile, he said, “My expectations have all been met and exceeded. The quality of music has proven to be better than all festivals in Southern Ontario.”

As the festival came to a close on day two with thrilling performances from the legendary Peter Appleyard and the popular Shuffle Demons, the festival organizers look forward to a promising future of satisfied music fans from not only Brantford, but all over Ontario.

Festival president Frank DeFelice said, “We started as a one-day festival and now we’re a two-day festival. The sky’s the limit!”

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